The world’s largest aircraft - the Antonov AN-225 Myria (“Dream”) - has landed at Nottingham East Midlands Airport. The six-engine hybrid of the more common AN-124 Ruslan is the only example flying and was originally designed to carry the Russian “Buran” space shuttle.

The visit of the Antonov Airlines AN-225 to NEMA is a first - the first commercial operation of the aircraft into any UK airport. It was one of six aircraft carrying imported clothing for Midlands-based company Primark.

One of the UK’s biggest annual children’s charity events, Operation Christmas Child, has delivered 70,000 gift-filled shoeboxes to needy children in the Ukraine in time for Christmas via an airlift from Nottingham East Midlands Airport (NEMA). The special flight was made by the Antonov 225, the world’s largest aircraft. Operated by Antonov Airlines, the 225’s departure from NEMA was the first commercial departure from the UK for this aircraft, which is bigger than the new Airbus A380. The aircraft had operated the first commercial landing in the UK earlier in the week when it brought in over 100 tons of textiles for rapidly expanding UK fashion retailer PRIMARK. In addition to shoeboxes collected in the East Midlands and gathered at the Operation Christmas Child facility in Chesterfield, a total of 12 articulated lorries brought 70,000 shoeboxes from the charity’s warehouses as far afield as Newcastle upon Tyne, Liverpool, South Wales and Chelmsford.

The special consignment was the largest single delivery ever made from the UK by Operation Christmas Child, which was founded in Wrexham in 1990 by Dave Cooke, and which last year delivered a total of over 1.1 million shoeboxes from the UK to 12 recipient countries, mainly in Eastern Europe.

Simon Barrington of Operation Christmas Child stated, ‘Each of the shoeboxes, packed by schoolchildren, churches, community groups, businesses and individuals, means a huge amount to the children that receive them. We will be flying into Kiev and distributing these shoeboxes to children in special schools, orphanages and poor families throughout a wide area, and visiting, for example, The Village of Hope, which looks after street children.

‘The tremendous impact that a shoebox containing some simple gifts has upon a child with nothing - and their family - cannot be over emphasized. The gift box brings toys and clothes to brighten difficult lives and most importantly, hope and love from the person packing the box here in Britain. It is very much a gift from someone here direct to a child who greatly appreciates what he or she receives.

‘We are now at the point of the 2005 project when we are transporting hundreds of thousands of shoeboxes to their destinations, and the support we are receiving from Antonov Airlines, and NEMA, are a major boost.’

Dave Cooke and other Operation Christmas Child personnel was onboard the Antonov 225 which departed NEMA for Kiev at 0800 on December 3.

Graham Pearce, Sales Director of Antonov Airlines, states, ‘We are very pleased to be in our 12th year of helping Operation Christmas Child. They help so many children and families in difficult circumstances, and when we learned that they were planning to take shoeboxes to the Ukraine we were delighted to donate the use of our Antonov 225 to make the trip much easier for them.’

Jane Simmonds, East Midlands Regional Manager, Operation Christmas Child, adds, ‘We had a fantastic response this year, once again, and its great to see the result of all the hard work of our volunteers and those who donated shoeboxes being part of a memorable event for this area. It is very appropriate that pupils from Ratcliffe College of Ratcliffe-on-the-Wreake and Firfield Primary School of Breaston are on-hand to see the thousands of shoeboxes being loaded, as they represent the many schoolchildren that have filled shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child in 2005.’